The Swiss foreign minister, Joseph Deiss, is to visit Israel and the Palestinian territories next week, the foreign ministry in Bern has confirmed. Deiss is set to meet Israeli and Palestinian leaders.
Deiss is expected to meet the Israeli foreign minister, Shimon Peres, and will pay a courtesy visit to the new prime minister, Ariel Sharon.
His tour of the region, which is scheduled to last between four and five days, will also take Deiss to the Palestinian-controlled areas. It's expected that when there he will meet the Palestinian leader, Yasser Arafat, for talks on the current situation in the region.
Switzerland has in the past offered its good offices to advance the Middle East peace process, and has hosted summits, but it is not known if the topic will be central to these talks.
Deiss met Arafat at the World Economic Forum in Davos in January and repeated Switzerland's willingness to help in the faltering peace process. The Swiss foreign minister also visited the region last year, going to Egypt, Syria and Lebanon.
Observers say Deiss is certain to raise the subject of Switzerland's engagement in the Palestinian territories. For almost 50 years the country has been providing financial aid to Palestinian refugees.
Switzerland now also runs a coordination office with the Palestinian Authority in east Jerusalem. In mid-February it provoked Israeli anger when its head spoke out publicly of the dangers to the peace process if Sharon was elected prime minister.
Deiss has recently spoken of Switzerland's commitment to furthering human rights in the region and its wish to help alleviate the suffering of Palestinians. He said he remained concerned that Jewish settlements violated the Geneva conventions.
swissinfo with agencies